Now in the fourth year running, Winterbike has grown into a huge event. Several times on Saturday, I couldn’t help but think about how small the first Winterbike was in comparison. Back then, only a handful of fat bikes could be seen among the small crowd of bikers; this time, they were universally present. While things have grown much bigger, the core of what made that first Winterbike fun hasn’t changed at all.
Once again, things were centered behind the Kingdom Trails Nordic center by the Wildflower Inn. There were over 400 participants attending this year. Other than a few minor congestion points out on the trail, it never actually felt like it was too crowded. My wife and daughter helped with the registration Saturday morning and it was quite busy. Fortunately, many people had completed their registration on Friday night which helped divert a major logistical bottleneck.
Normally, I show up for an event at the last minute and would take this space to write about how I was doing something like putting my bike together while everyone else was hitting the trail. This time, however, I was actually early. Unbelievable. This was mostly due to the fact that I was slated to lead the “epic” ride, the first group ride scheduled for the morning. We managed to get rolling a little before 9am with a small group of 15 riders. Several of the people in our group were good friends, so I knew this was going to be fun.
It was cold out there, with the morning starting out around -12F. Actually, it’s been at least that cold nearly every morning for the past two months, but I’ll save that for another rant. It was cold enough that I had my tongue get cold from breathing deeply on some of the climbs. I’ve been in Vermont most of my life, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. The up-side of these temperatures was that it gave us super firm, grippy snow. The traction was so good that you could even stand up for more power on steep climbs without spinning out.
We started the ride by looping around Bill Magill and then crossing over to the west side. The trails on the west side of Darling Hill were just recently packed and opened to the public, so I was a little apprehensive about bringing a group down there. Thankfully, my concerns were not realized. We descended Fox Run which turned out to be a blast. When I had ridden earlier in the week, the snow was nowhere near as good as this. We rode out to the bottom of Old Webs and made a run up the left side and down the right. Everything in that area seemed to be in amazing shape. The trails crew outdid themselves with their work. I would have stayed over on the west side of Darling Hill for the remainder of the day if we didn’t care about hitting the aid station that was on the far end of the east side.
I lead our group back to the East side, hitting Knob, Sugar Hill, Pines, Riverwood and a few others. As we worked our way up the east side, we finally started to run into other groups. We were momentarily delayed by some minor traffic jams, but nothing that dragged down the ride overall. There were a LOT of people out on bikes by late morning. While these are the same trails we ride in the summer months, many of them have been re-routed thanks to the deep cover of snow. The end result is that you get a little more interesting experience and avoid the VAST trail.
We climbed up Beat Bog and then found our way over to the aid station. There, the KT crew had a good-sized fire going with quite a few people already warming up around it. There was no shortage of food and things to drink. I thought the hot cider was particularly good. By this time, the temperature might have climbed out of the single digits, but I wasn’t going to complain about any additional source of warmth. The cider paired with some bread with Vermont Peanut Butter hit the spot pretty well.
Once the remainder of our group had had their fill, it was time to take in some more trails. We rode up to the top of Kitchell and had a pretty good ride on the way down. I think every one of us had at least one good dive into the snow in the process. A few had numerous unplanned trips off the groomed track. We then rode back up to the end of Riverwood for another pass, now in the opposite direction. The snow was starting to show some wear from the warming temperatures and the crazy number of bikes.
From there, we rode back up to the Connector trail and climbed back over the fields to the main venue arriving back in time to get some lunch. My group had experienced some attrition along the way and was significantly smaller now; but everyone seemed to have a good time, even those that chose to cut the ride short for one reason or another.
Registration for the day included a meal and a couple of cups of Long Trail Ale. I think we were all more than ready for some warm food. The lunch was provided by Market Cafe again this year and it didn’t disappoint. I love their wraps. There was also the option of sitting down in a warm restaurant at Juniper’s across the street.
Later in the afternoon the 6X race was held on the hill behind the Nordic Center. This was followed by various games, such as a fat bike log pull, sugar on snow, and others activities. This year Winterbike was more of a weekend event. There were casual non-organized group rides on Sunday morning as well as pre-registration and socialization on Friday night at the Publick House. This makes it even better, especially if you’re driving a long way to get here. I met some people who came from as far as Ontario and New Brunswick. There was also a guy from Florida, but I don’t think he came up just for the biking. Overall, it was a great day. We had perfect blue skies, awesome snow conditions, good food and spent it all out riding bikes. It’s hard to argue against any of that.